“These large granitoid intrusions”

DSC_0118These posts are from a recent backpacking trip I made on the PCT with my dear friend Brad Shaffer. The post titles are taken from the great climber Fred Beckey from his Cascade Alpine Guide which I have no business owning. The posts are standalone but probably better if you can read them in order, going back if needed, or starting at the beginning. The series ends this Sunday.

When I took my socks and boots off my feet looked foreign to me, pale and shriveled as a newborn — the bites hardened and crusted over but my body didn’t need as much food now, it’s like it got more efficient, and we grazed on nuts and cheese, an English cheddar that crumbled and looked like the nearby schist on the cliff walls about to break off.

The two women in the camp next to us left and we moved in to take their spot because the sun was hitting ours and I emptied my bear canister to clean the contents with anti-bacterial wipes because the packet of smoked salmon I brought, though vacuum sealed, oozed fish oil all over everything and made us feel like bear bait, made everything in the canister taste like salmon.

Most of the food I brought didn’t need to be refrigerated and I assumed the food that did would reconstitute at night if it cooled down but it never did, so the cheese just continued to melt, and the boiled eggs looked suspicious, and Brad and I resolved to do our best to consume it all before we broke camp, taking turns on the salmon with our pocket knives but fastidious about cleaning the oil off, not smearing it on our shorts.

They say you’re supposed to consume like 6,000 calories per day when you’re backpacking but that’s impossible: on the first night neither Brad nor I had eaten much of anything, but made it 11 miles on energy gels and the beers we drank at each stop, to lighten my pack.

And though I’d prided myself on never getting a blister in almost 20 years of this, I discovered one at the river, an angry looking red marble on my heel, a sickly eye, milky and knotted.

Brad gave me an ointment and I used bandages from my first aid kit, wrapped it in duct tape, and we packed for the shuttle bus that comes up an old mining road along the PCT and carries hikers and sight-seers from the woods into the mountain town of Stehekin at the top of Lake Chelan.

We grabbed a table on the deck at the restaurant, Brad got a six-pack and a bag of chips, and we sat there for a few hours in our bare feet burping and making other sounds, talking to a couple through-hikers at another table, two guys in their late 20s doing around 40 miles a day who’d been on the trail since May and were almost done, killing time now in Stehekin drinking beer, waiting to meet friends at Rainy Pass for their final leg.

One of them was finishing Into The Wild on his Kindle, and I retold the part where Krakauer borrows his dad’s tent while trying some first ascent on a peak in Alaska but almost burns the tent down smoking a joint, catching it with the cherry, then summits the peak, but when he tries to talk about it in the local bar later no one cares or believes him.

There was also a Swiss guy who’d come up from Mexico and was about to finish, who’d started in April and averaged 30 miles/day (which you’d have to, to go 2,600 miles); Brad asked me if he could tell him the story about our first night out, how I had my privates exposed looking for a tick when another hiker came up the trail and saw me like that.

By the time we had to get ready for the shuttle to drop us at the trailhead the sun was low enough it was really hot again, well into the 90s, and we knew we had a thousand feet to go through a burn area where they’d had a forest fire in 2010, a couple miles up the valley to our camp. We finished the beer and each had burgers but that didn’t help, and we got on the bus and off again, and then everything went quiet except for the crickets and the mosquitoes, and off we went once more, back up the trail.

It was our last night together and a solemn feeling in the camp, which looked like it didn’t get much use but had nice fire rings with rusted steel grates you could raise and lower. A ptarmigan came up to greet us with its little headdress and the bats kicked up as the sun went down and we wondered how long until the moon came up, we’d probably be asleep, both of us wanted to get an early start the next day.

I made a small fire and boiled water for dinner and we hacked our way down to the creek to collect water for our gravity bags, to filter a good four quarts or so for the next day, which would be my longest stretch, nine miles and lots of gain over a 6,000′ mountain pass and down to an alpine lake where I had a permit to camp for the night.

Though the area was burned out and many of the trees blackened and ghostly looking some survived, little islands of trees that helped reseed the area, Brad noted. It was a vast valley surrounding us no camera could convey, and I had the sense it didn’t get much human contact, and there were likely all kinds of creatures in the sky and brush around us interested in our fire.

Brad copped to the fact it wasn’t his last pack of cigarettes, he had another stash, and returning from the creek we talked about addiction, his brother and sister, and could I relate, and we nestled in by the fire on a log bench and proceeded to take pulls off the tequila but couldn’t finish it — and I offered Brad a hip flask for his journey south, but he declined.

The moon lit the hillsides before we could actually see it and Brad pointed out Polaris, how you can spot it from the Big Dipper which I’d forgotten, and that was the direction I’d be going the next day — Brad back down to Stehekin and further south more than a hundred miles, back to work October 3.

When it was time to get up the moon was a pale brandy color picking up the morning sun, and I ate the last of the eggs and an energy gel, some coffee, and we hugged goodbye, I said hopefully it’s not our last time out and Brad said, you mean for the season, or for our lives — and as I left camp I joked I should get going before we start getting blue and singing Elton John songs, and we both riffed on “Daniel,” I can see the red tail-lights, I can see Daniel waving goodbye — and I let the rest of it play out in my head as I got back on the trail and climbed up to the pass.




Categories: hiking, musings, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. something about getting blue and singing elton john songs….yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I once set my hair on fire inside a tent. The smell stayed with me for days. I’m not sure why this is, but I found myself wanting the shuttle break to end so you could get back to the trail. I’m sure it must have felt a welcome break at the time. All of this has me looking to read more (saw the comment yesterday on A Walk In the Woods, up next). One fun thing about blogging is how it opens new doors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You set your hair on fire in a tent. That’s brilliant! Were you using hair spray to try to torch a bee or something? Ha! Thanks for sharing the shuttle break thing, wanting to end — that’s cool. It was a strange mid-break to the five days out. The talk with the two through-hikers was very interesting, hearing all about their times out. They’d both lost something like 30 lbs. And they were doing it paperless (no maps), just apps.
      Yeah, opening new doors. I like that phrase…it can be a cliche, but the notion of one door closing and another opening I like, it’s positive. I wanted to challenge myself to serialize this trip and also as a gift of sorts for my friend Brad, when he comes off the trail and gets back online and has this to read over. It makes it 100 times more fun and gratifying to have great readers so thanks Kristen for following along. I have a couple more for the weekend planned too. (It is Friday today, right?) Bill


      • It is Friday. Cool gift and way to remember the days. It’s the little things for sure, cliches sure but for a reason. No the hair torching was me being drunk and trying to light a cigarette or joint. The next day I got smacked in the face hard with a paddle by this guy Warren. I’m thinking now of Sloop John B and the line “this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now that’s a blog post, there. You don’t have to be Jon Krakauer to burn down your tent with a joint, or hairspray. Happy Friday, thank god we made it. Bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • No one noticed Warren clobbering me in the face with the paddle, including Warren. I wanted for something to be broken besides my spirit but my face is tougher I guess. Thanks for the memories Bill!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for telling is about Warren! I’ve never known one, that’s a good name, a different era. (Typing with paint-thumbs now, not pretty.) Bill


  3. The only part of the PCT I’ve done is the bit around Rainier, but your posts have me thinking about doing some hiking again. I’m sure my knees will disagree by the time summer rolls around again but reading these has been almost as good and I didn’t get a single bug bite or blister.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The knees snap back, so to speak. My friend Brad said the stretch from Hart’s Pass (near Canada) down to Cutthroat Pass (north of Rainy Pass) was exquisite. I want to go back and do that some time. The trail is really nicely groomed and yes, I’m wanting to do more too. Maybe we hook up some time? It’s a haul out this way from yours, but we’ll see. I think my peninsula hiking may be done for the season, but there is always the High Divide I’ve wanted to back and do — I think there’s a Hart’s Lake up there (may have misspelled that) if I’m not mistaken. Lots of bear around there, too. Bill


  4. I am so touched by the friendship and bond that you two share on your journey and perhaps in life. We should all connect like this. Beautiful and heartfelt. Makes we want to hike with good friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right on Ann, it is very cool and unusual. Something about the backpacking trips brings people closer. And being tied on the same rope together, for sure. Enjoy your day. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thought about you yesterday as we drove past the PCT trailhead at Donner Summit, how this thin line of dirt ran all the way up to you guys.

    It’s funny how goodbyes, at a certain point, become potential last goodbyes. Kind of a weird feeling, and you start saying goofy things and acting like it’s not awkward. “Catch you later!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Donner party of one. Cool you thought about is Kevin, thanks. The two guys we met tagged the top of Whitney and climbed back down, can’t believe that. But yes on the goodbyes, which is why I like them brief (as do most) and best tempered with humor, must be the clouds in my eyes. Bill


  6. I can’t say I’ve ever really packed it in, apart from one three-day hike on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand back in the 80’s. I did lug the pack around the rest of the NZ trip and for a couple months in Europe doing the hostel bit, but that’s not quite the same thing. So I’ll have to bow to your experience and expertise about the wisdom of packing in beer…

    Liked by 1 person

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